The holiday season is in full swing, so this is a good time to talk about giving back. This is the time of year when it is common for companies to do food drives and other charitable acts in the spirit of the season. But have you thought about how such generosity can become a part of your company culture year round? One way that companies can make giving to others a part of their company culture is through providing a volunteer benefit to employees. Such a benefit also has the added bonus of making your company even more attractive to job seekers.
Creating a Culture of Compassion
It’s no secret that most of us want more from a job than just a paycheck. We not only want a job where we feel we add value to an organization, but many of us are also interested in working for a company where we feel like we are making a difference. We hear about this in companies committed to donating to the communities in which they do business. Such an approach encourages a culture of compassion where the focus is not just on making more and more money and then squirrelling that wealth away in the pockets of a few top executives. A volunteer benefit allows employees to be a direct part of giving back.
Sabra Reyes is the HR Director at New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, CA, a company that has a community service benefit in place for employees. She explains, “This always sounds cliché but community is our middle name. It’s extremely important for us at New Leaf Community Markets to give back to our community. It’s a core part of our culture. We service customers who live in our neighborhoods and make up our community, so any way we can continue to be involved both through financial giving and supporting community events and organizations adds to that.”
What to Include in Your Volunteer Program
The types of volunteer activities can vary to match your employees’ interests. Reyes says, “We have a lot of employees who are parents and enjoy volunteering for their kids’ schools. If employees have particular interests or passions, they often will use those to work for various events or organizations throughout the communities where we have stores. Several employees donate blood to the blood banks. We have organizations like Santa Cruz volunteer center that match up potential volunteers with organizations.”
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Determine how many volunteer hours you want to offer to your employees each year. Provide a form where an employee can describe who they will be doing volunteer hours for and include space for someone from the organization they are volunteering for to sign off that the hours were completed. Once a volunteer request is approved, an employee can do hours for the organization of their choice. Remember that when you pay an employee to volunteer, the hours should count as regular hours for the purposes of things like calculating overtime. Your policy should mention that volunteering is not mandatory and that this is a voluntary benefit.
Team Building without the Trust Falls
To make it even easier for employees to volunteer, you can organize events such as beach clean ups for groups of employees. Such activities are an excellent way to build camaraderie and to strengthen team bonds without resorting to things like trust falls, skits and all those other team building exercises. In a group volunteer activity, the purpose is to give back and help others. Team building happens as a byproduct of that without trying to cram it down your employee’s throats.
Encourage owners and upper management to get involved in volunteering as well. Volunteering alongside employees is a chance for those in top positions to spend some time with the employees who make the company a success. In effect, they are giving back to both the community and to their own employees, making the generosity twofold.
Other Ideas for Encouraging a Culture of Giving
There are also ways to encourage a culture of giving within the company. This may take the form of an ice cream social where managers make sundaes for their employees. When I worked at a grocery chain, those of us in the corporate office would head to stores the day before Thanksgiving to bag groceries. For me, it was fun to look down the line of check stands and to see the owners of the company assisting customers. It was also a good way for us to see first hand just how hard store employees worked to provide excellent customer service and to show employees we supported all them—especially on the busiest grocery shopping day of the year.
You may also want to consider setting up a program for employees to recognize coworkers who go above and beyond. All of these things are easy to set up and are an investment in your employees and your company’s wellbeing.